The Importance of Following Even When There Are Not Elders Leading

This article is the final entry in a four part series on how church leadership should function in congregations which don't have men qualified to serve as elders.
As we mentioned earlier in this series, the aim of Jesus for His church is unity (John 17:20-23; 1 Corinthians 1:10). It’s pretty natural for us to think of unity in terms of interpersonal relationships, but in order to please Christ we must also think of unity on the congregational level. Paul calls us to walk worthy of our Christian calling by, among other things, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Don’t overlook the very next phrase: “There is one body” (4:4a), a reference to Jesus’ church (1:22-23). The principle of submission that we explored last week has more to teach us as we reflect upon congregational leadership.

Two passages have special significance in this discussion:
  • “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
  • “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct… Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:7, 17).

These passages most naturally find their application in relation to the elders of the church. We learn elsewhere that both Jesus and the Holy Spirit have given elders the overseeing work alluded to in these passages (1 Peter 5:2-3; Acts 20:28). However, it’s important to remember 1) these passages don’t explicitly mention elders; 2) these passages don’t simply “go away” when a Scriptural eldership doesn’t exist. Christians are called by these verses to submit to congregational leadership; if an eldership does not exist, Christians should look to submit to God’s next tier of leadership: the Christian men of the congregation.

Christian men themselves are also not immune to the call to submit; in fact, they are frequently called to operate as everyone else does: under the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When I worked with the church in Melbourne, Australia, we didn’t have an eldership. A big decision came up: after years of worshipping in a rented hall, we had the opportunity to buy a small shop and convert it into a church building. As we talked about this possibility in our monthly men’s meeting, it became clear that one of our brothers was against the idea. He had been a Christian there in Melbourne longer than any of us and had always dreamed of having a “proper” church building. However, given property prices in Melbourne and the availability of loans to faith groups, such a building simply was not realistic. Had this brother dug in his heels, it is likely that we would not have moved forward with the project out of a desire to maintain unity. However, when this brother saw that he was in the minority and that reasonable, faithful Christians believed this to be in the best interests of the church, he not only submitted to the decision we ultimately made to buy the shop, but he also actively joined us in the efforts to get the shop ready to become a place of worship.

Church leadership must exist whether there are elders or not, but it cannot exist without church followership. May God bless us with the humility of heart and mind needed to answer His call to submit to our leaders. And, as we bring this series of studies to a close, may He continue to work in Christian men and their families until there are God-honoring “elders in every church” (Acts 14:23).
-Patrick Swayne






1 Corinthians 12 1 Corinthians 14:15 1 Corinthians 14 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 1 Corinthians 7 1 Peter 1:6-12 1 Peter 2:9 1 Peter 3 1 Peter 5:6-7 1 Peter 1 Samuel 4 1 Thessalonians 5:18 1 Timothy 4:1-3 2 Corinthians 6 2 John 1:9 2 John 9 2 Kings 2 Peter 2 2 Peter 3 2 Peter 2 Samuel Abel Abraham Absalom Acts 17 Acts 19 Acts 2 Acts 8 Acts Alcohol Alleged Contradictions Apostles Ark of the Covenant Attitude Authority Autonomy Autumn Balance Baptismal Regeneration Baptism Barnabas Benevolence Bible Contradictions Bible Questions and Answers Bible Study Bible Biblical Interpretation Bishop Body of Christ Borrowing Broad Way Cain and Abel Cain Calvinism Catholicism Catholic Celibacy Challenges Children Christian Living Christmas Church Funds Church Leadership Church Membership Church of Christ Church Circumspection Citations Citizenship Colossians 3:16 Communication Communion Community Confidence Congregations Contend for the Faith Contentment Covetousness Creation Credit Current Events Dating David Debt Forgivness Deconstruction Degrees of Punishment Deity Deliverance Denominationalism Devil Difference Different Discipleship Divine Nature Doctrine Dragon Drinking Easter Ecclesiastes 7:10 Ecclesia Eldership Elders Elder Elijah Elisha Encouragement Enoch Ephesians 2:8-9 Ephesians 5:15 Ephesians 5:16 Ephesians 5:18 Ephesians 5:19 Ephesians 5:5 Ephesians 5 Esther 4:14 Evangelism Ezekiel 36 Ezekiel 6 Faith Alone Faith Only Faithfulness Faith Fall False Teachers False Teaching Fathers Fear Feeding of the 5000 Fornication Free Will Fundamentals Galatians 4:9-10 Gender Roles Generosity Genesis 22 Genesis 4 Genesis Gift of Tongues Gifts Giving Godhead Godhood God Gospel Meeting Gospel Grace Gratitude Greater Sin Greed Grief Grieving Hallelujah Praise Jehovah Hallelujah Hebrews 13:4 Help Hermeneutics Holidays Holy Spirit's Deity Husbands Hymns Hypotheticals Idolatry Imperatives Influence Insomnia Instrumental Music Instruments in Worship Intertextuality Isaac Isaiah 2 Isaiah 6 James 1:19 James 1:27 James 1 James Jehovah Witnesses Jehovah Jerome Jesus Temptation Jesus' Deity Jesus\' Deity Jesus Job John 11 John 19:11 John 4:24 John Calvin John the Baptist Jude 1:11 Jude 3 Jude Judgement Judging Judgment Kindness Lamb of God Lamech Lazarus Leadership Leaven Lemuel Lending Levites Limited Atonement Living Sacrifice Local Church Lord's Supper Luke 1:28 Luke 5:1-11 Mariolatry Mark 1:12-13 Mark Marriage Martin Luther Mary Matthew 5:13-16 Matthew 5:3-12 Matthew 5 Matthew 7:13-14 Matthew 7:1 Melchizedek Men's Business Meeting Men\'s Business Meeting Men\\\'s Business Meeting Men Metaphors Minor Prophets Miracles Miraculous Gifts Money Mormonism Mothers Mount of Olives Mountain of the Lord's House Mountains of Israel Mountains Murder Music Mutual Submission Narrow Gate Narrow Way No Elders Non-Denominational Olive Trees Olives Olivet Olive Once Saved Always Saved Parenting Pastor Patience Patriarchs Pattern Paul Peace Pentecostalism Persecution Perseverence Perspective Philippians 3:20 Philippians 4:6 Plagiarism Poetic Language Politics Prayer Praying to Saints Praying Pray Preacher Preaching Priesthood Priests Proverbs 31:6 Proverbs Providence Psalm 148 Quotations Reader Response Redeeming the Time Relationships Relationship Religion Religious Pluralism Religious Syncretism Remission of Sins Restoration Movement Restoration Revelation 12:9 Riches Roman Catholic Church Romans 12:1-8 Romans 12:10 Romans 12:15 Romans 12:1 Romans 12 Sacrifice Saints Only Salvation Satan Scarecrows Sermon on the Mount Serving Others Sexual Sin Silence of the Scriptures Singing Sin Sleep Sobriety Song Studies Sons Sovereignty of God Spending Spirit and Truth Spiritual Death Spiritual Gifts Spiritual Leadership Stephen Straight Gate Stress Student Debt Submission Suffering Temptations Thankfulness The Beatitudes The Problem of Pain and Suffering The Problem of Suffering The Way of Cain The Way Tongue Speaking Total Hereditary Depravity Tradition Trials Trinity Types and Antitypes Uncleanness Unconditional Election Understanding Unity Unknown Tongue Vulgate Wealth Wide Gate William Kirkpatrick Wives Women in the Church Women's Roles Word Study Work Worship Zechariah clergy death sickness